About five years ago I was introduced to somebody who was described as the chief buyer for the identity card scheme. “Will it ever happen,” I enquired. “Definitely not,” came the unequivocal reply. “Er, I should point out that Steve is the editor of SM
,” added the person who had introduced us. But it was too late. The immediate backtracking was a little unconvincing.
Despite the widespread opposition to the scheme, for years I assumed the buyer had it wrong. Until the election the cards looked highly likely to make it. But now of course, along with many other schemes, they are finished.
It seems every day there is an announcement from the coalition government affecting public sector buyers, be it the establishment of the Efficiency and Reform Group, pooled and mandated spending, ever higher savings targets and the abandonment or suspension of projects.
We all know the reasons for these cuts. And we are aware of the opportunity this presents for buyers, but it does create a lot of uncertainty. Nobody in Whitehall really knows exactly what their buying jobs will involve in six months’ time. And for some there must be concerns that the ramping up of collaborative buying may require fewer posts overall. The picture will have become a little clearer after the Budget is announced this afternoon and the Comprehensive Spending Review later this year, but for the time being there is a lot of uncertainty.
And while tax rises will also reduce the deficit, spending cuts and efficiency savings will also play a vital role. And therefore I can see no sense whatsoever in reducing the number of professionals who will make the efficiencies and deliver the savings.
Undoubtedly, greater scrutiny will identify improvements in the ways public sector procurement is carried out (as it would anywhere), but with so many billions at stake the coalition will need all the experienced buyers it has.